I've got mail

In a blogging career lasting about 5 years now, I’ve learned not to expect much feedback. It’s not because people don’t read blogs about orchestras or the AFM – the two topics I write about – because the traffic stats show otherwise. And it’s not that people don’t care, because otherwise why would they take the trouble to read the blogs in the first place?

So I’ve been surprised by the reaction to what I’ve written about the New Hampshire Music Festival. I’ve gotten emails from Festival musicians, former Festival musicians, and local Festival supporters. I guess it’s possible I’m the target of a faux grassroots campaign – but every single email I’ve gotten to date has expressed a kind of sorrowful anger over the loss of something special in the writers’ lives due to the actions of Festival management.

Summer festivals are different from our day jobs. People go to work every day, whether in an orchestra, an office, a cockpit, a courtroom, or any other workplace, for a variety of reasons, but generally the need to earn a living is at the top of the list. People go to work at summer festivals for very different reasons, and money is not usually one of them.

Certainly no NHMF musician is doing much more than break even out of what the Festival pays, and the housing sounds far from luxurious. They go not because they are treated well economically – they go because of the experience. I’ve done a few summer festivals over the years, and can testify to the kind of loyalty they can engender amongst musicians.

So the emails I’ve received aren’t about being deprived of a gig that these musicians need to pay the rent; they’re about the loss of something that they love. But, if the Festival really has inspired that kind of passion amongst musicians and audience members alike – exactly what problem is it that David Graham and Henry Fogel are trying to solve?

About the author

Robert Levine
Robert Levine

Robert Levine has been the Principal Violist of the Milwaukee Symphony since September 1987. Before coming to Milwaukee Mr. Levine had been a member of the Orford String Quartet, Quartet-in-Residence at the University of Toronto, with whom he toured extensively throughout Canada, the United States, and South America. Prior to joining the Orford Quartet, Mr. Levine had served as Principal Violist of The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra for six years. He has also performed with the San Francisco Symphony, the London Symphony of Canada, and the Oklahoma City Symphony, as well as serving as guest principal with the orchestras of Indianapolis and Hong Kong.

He has performed as soloist with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Oklahoma City Symphony, the London Symphony of Canada, the Midsummer Mozart Festival (San Francisco), and numerous community orchestras in Northern California and Minnesota. He has also been featured on American Public Radio's nationally broadcast show "St. Paul Sunday Morning" on several occasions.

Mr. Levine has been an active chamber musician, having performed at the Festival Rolandseck in Germany, the Grand Teton Music Festival, the Palm Beach Festival, the "Strings in the Mountains" Festival in Colorado, and numerous concerts in the Twin Cities and Milwaukee. He has also been active in the field of new music, having commissioned and premiered works for viola and orchestra from Minnesota composers Janika Vandervelde and Libby Larsen.

Mr. Levine was chairman of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians from 1996 to 2002 and currently serves as President of the Milwaukee Musicians Association, Local 8 of the American Federation of Musicians, and as a member of the Board of Directors of the League of American Orchestras. He has written extensively about issues concerning orchestra musicians for publications of ICSOM, the AFM, the Symphony Orchestra Institute, and the League of American Orchestras.

Mr. Levine attended Stanford University and the Institute for Advanced Musical Studies in Switzerland. His primary teachers were Aaron Sten and Pamela Goldsmith. He also studied with Paul Doctor, Walter Trampler, Bruno Giuranna, and David Abel.

He lives with his wife Emily and his son Sam in Glendale.

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  • Mr.Levine,

    When I moved back to the US in 1999 to become the Violin Professor at the University of Washington, I “retired” from 34 years as a concertmaster (Miami Philharmonic, Denver Symphony, Houston Symphony and the last 20 years with the Monte Carlo Philharmonic). I was invited by NHMF conductor Paul Polivnik in 2001 to become the concertmaster of the NHMF. What I discovered was the most incredible assembly of great musicians who came together to live in a dorm, play symphony and chamber music, and enjoy each other during six weeks in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The level of playing was some of the best I had ever experienced; the lack of orchestra politics was truly rare; the interaction with the public unique in my experience; and the determination of David Graham to destroy this NHMF environment obvious.

    I have been around orchestra managers so long that I thought I had seen it all. But the ego, lack of sensitivity and gross ignorance of David Graham coupled with a misdirected Board of Directors bent on accomplishing a non-music-related and failure-headed task of building a new concert site was the perfect storm for destruction.

    There was absolutely no reason to change the NHMF. Advertise, yes; change, no. I feel a real loss as does the public and the other musicians. The fact that this kind of action is allowed to happen to a great music festival cannot be allowed. Thank you for getting the information out.

    Ron Patterson
    Concertmaster, NHMF since 2001

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